February 24th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

The latest legislative tool: Satire

For the very serious business of making serious laws for states with legitimately serious problems, there’s an unexpected streak of comedic wackiness running through governmental chambers.

Consider a sample of legislative work since the start of 2012:

Alaska Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Alaska, proposed the federal government take over New York’s Central Park and make it a development-free wilderness area as a way to blast back at those he says are in the way of drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wyoming legislators followed up with a bill in support of Alaska's measure.

In Mississippi, Democratic lawmaker Stephen Holland introduced a bill to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America. It's a swipe at Republicans who he says want to push everything having to do with Mexico out of the state.

To get more - ahem - personal, Democratic Oklahoma Sen. Constance Johnson wrote a provision for an anti-abortion bill that said men can ejaculate only into women’s vaginas, lest lives be wasted. Virginia Democrat Janet Howell amended an anti-abortion bill to require rectal exams for men before they could get erectile dysfunction medications.

This week Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Georgia, tired of an anti-abortion debate she says ignored women’s points of view, introduced a bill that would block men from having vasectomies unless the procedure would prevent death or serious injury.

Nevermind filibusters, lobbyists and legislative majorities; when lawmakers really want the world to know their opinions, they crack a joke, keep a straight face and wait for the tweets to start.

“Irony has a lot of currency these days,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, author of "Entertaining Politics: New Political Television and Civic Culture" and director of Old Dominion University's Institute of Humanities. “It’s kind of a new public language.”

The way Jones sees it, American government is in a stormy period of red-faced ideological posturing, and legislators might have realized that quiet farce can be more effective than yelling louder.

“The divisions seem so intense, irony is kind of a way to break out of that mold, garner attention and get people to stop and think,” Jones said.

Nobody expects to go swimming in the Gulf of America this summer (although, Johansen’s Central Park resolution did have a hearing, and Howell’s rectal exam amendment was just a few votes shy of approval.) Legislators made their point by putting some dry wit on the public record and drawing the gaze of media.

There's nothing particularly new here - satire, irony and sarcasm have lightened the mood while making a point since the age of Aristophanes. But they travel beautifully in the age of Twitter trends and late-night comedy; Neal and her anti-vasectomy bill popped up on blogs and Facebook, and news networks - this one, included - were on the story before The Onion needed to make it up.

“I expected this to be a Georgia issue. It’s not anymore," Neal said.

Reproductive rights debates on the state level

Of course, it can backfire. Stephen Colbert’s 2010 Congressional testimony on immigration - “masterful as a rhetorical act,” Jones said - was roundly panned as “an embarrassment” and "a real joke" by Republican legislators. To those who take government most seriously, policy testimony from a comedian wasn’t so funny.

Neal, a law enforcement officer in her first term as a state legislator, admits she took a risk with the anti-vasectomy bill. Georgia Republican Rep. Doug McKillip, who sponsored the abortion-limiting bill, called the anti-vasectomy bill a “poor attempt at humor,” and plenty of online comments railed against wasted time and resources.

Neal said she feels like her colleagues paid attention like they hadn't before, and most laughed about the anti-vasectomy bill. After a collective crossing of legs, America seemed to giggle at it, too.

“As a female in the general assembly, you have to be careful – what you wear, what you look like. You have to be good and then a little bit better,” Neal said. “I felt I could do a pretty good job of molding the conversation. I trust Georgians and Americans. I knew they’d get it, and they do.”

The 7,382 state legislators introduce between 200,000 and 220,000 bills in a two-year term, Karl Kurtz, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures points out. The recent spate of satirical legislation might be a fad, courtesy of fast-moving news and legislators borrowing each other's ideas, although there's plenty of just-for-fun legislation in the record books.

“There are always going to be some oddballs and jokes and attention-getters,” Kurtz said.

Fear not, lovers of Central Park and vasectomies: Legislatures, Kurtz said, are designed to say no. Of all the bills introduced, less than one-fifth pass.

For now, it seems likely the spermatozoon of Georgia’s men will flow as freely (or not) as the fellas choose; the true test of the anti-vasectomy bill might be whether the abortion-limiting bill becomes a law.

Satire drew attention for Neal's cause this time, but would she try it again?

She winces a little: “I’m going to be picky about the next one.”

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Filed under: Georgia • Health • Politics
soundoff (649 Responses)

    well spoken

    February 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    It's a good thing we can laugh at ourselves politically. I'm sure the rest of the world finds us amusing too. The most powerful nation on earth's only election issues are abortion and religion. And we call the Islamists fanatics!

    February 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      Tony, the real problem is that those two issues are diversions from the real problems of oil speculators driving up the price of energy and the climate crisis as well as the problem of corporate personhood.

      Regretfully the straw dogs seem to be working well. Too well for the sake of our children's futures.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dognuts

    I wouldn't even consider having my dog cut. Let alone my self. Control your dog. Control yourself. sheesh.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      My body, I do what I want with it.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Sort of the whole point of the thing, Rob.
      Not having anyone else tell you what to do with your bosy, let alone try and legislate it.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol

      +1 the ugly clown in the video is probably upset that nobody wants to knock her up, so she's forcing fertility on men to increase her chances. amirite?

      February 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dognuts

    @Portland Tony. Nobody calls people defending their own property from trespassers "fanatic". Defending your property and your family from invading armies is a human thing, not a fanatical religious thing.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Read Portland tony's post again, slowly.
      Thank you.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    The whole political landscape is nothing but a satire anymore. So what's new with this info ?

    February 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      They need to just DO THEIR GSD JOBS and quit with all of the BS.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. saywhat

    Wackiness running amok up on the Hill, we have seen enough of. Nothing new there. The current GP sideshow showcases this ailment across our political spectrum. Its not comedic though more tragic I would say.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dori

    don't forget to add to that bill spousal consent for the 'clip it, to nip it" procedure. A woman may wish to have more children and in a equal society, a man's body is hers to do what she wishes with.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WC

    I planning on launching a state initiative aimed at obtaining the legal status of personhood for my feces.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Good luck with that.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cyrus

      Try Arizona

      February 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol

      the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. given the IQ needed for your post, i think you've already been given personhood status, mr. hankie.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ct

    Hummmm killing a fetus as a form of birth control. I see how she compares the 2.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. disjustin

    GOSH...I hope this bill wouldn't kill my erection. Limiting me from ejaculating only for procreation is-discussed in the Bible, Koran, Talmud etc.; as well, but the Catholic and evangelical Baptismal churches or Jewish place of worships and Mosques; do not want to discuss this. The limitations by men placed on women's reproductive rights is a double standard and counter-productive. Since Vasectomy and issues such as Prostate Cancer are medical issues that affect men and women involved in marriage or relationships. Then by all means it should be debated by a huge contingency of women in he state representative and in congress as well.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. casey

    It's my body, and if I choose to have an abortion that is my decision and no one else. If my husband wants to get his family jewels clipped it's his body and his decision.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Some day you will answer to the baby and his God.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • MonkeySender

      And how's your uterus doing there, Mike?

      February 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol

      @monkeysender ask your dad.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      That's right, Mike, and it's Casey's business. That will be between Casey and God. How does it involve you? How does or anyone else? This is where the right to privacy comes in, or is that news to you?

      Here's a Bible verse for you from the New Testament and it's in the words of Jesus:

      Matthew 7:5

      New International Version (NIV)

      5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    So tired of sarcasm, it gets tiresome.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jj

    Testing..... Ejaculate

    February 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      Wow I didn't think they would post that. Word but I can't spell racune the right way. Lol

      February 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Thanks, Jj. 🙂

      February 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Yawn

    So basically this is a story about how we have a bunch of little kids running the country. Super.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alex

    So every fetus gets born, yeah...reality, we still have no jobs, no healthcare, no money to go to college, losing our right to work....oh yeah, lets bring more people into this jacked up mess so we can have more criminals who I hope perform their crafts on all you prolifers and anti abortionist cause remember, you can't hide in your gated communities forever and mostly you have the money and means to be a victim.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      Here's a question for you: where would these people work, live, drive, if they were here? Where would their sewage go? Where would their food and clean water come from? How would they find jobs?

      The party that supports fetuses until they're born, then yanks away all support never considers that, do they? All they care about is the itty bitty fetus. Well, now, it costs $500K to raise a child and send it to college, what about that? Let me tell you this, I did a research project on one of those Right to Life groups in the state of Virginia and all that help they claim they give women who have crisis pregnancies? That stops when the child is 5 years of age, as if the kid stops needing food, clothing, medicine and help when she hits 5. God help you if they are all you have to turn to, because you're in trouble. It's not much and they pull the plug before your kid is grown. Don't count on them to be there for you until your baby is 18, because they won't be, they'll cut you loose before the kid's out of kindergarten.

      I'm just sayin....surprised me. I thought they loved kids. Guess not.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
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